Injuries are Liverpool’s Achilles Heel to Success
Liverpool came so desperately close to winning the Champions League last season but they suffered injuries at key times. Jurgen Klopp and his team had managed the minutes and playing time of the players exceptionally, but you couldn’t help feeling that a couple more quality squad players could have helped LFC over the line. Klopp’s insistence on waiting for the right player rather than buying someone he has no interest in, is, for the most part, admirable, but it can result in what happened last season where Liverpool felt a few players short.
It would be a myth to say that Klopp would only accept his first choice, given suggestions that Sadio Mane and indeed Mo Salah were not the first choice picks for the Liverpool manager. Whilst there is an undoubted feel-good factor around LFC and how the club is being run at the moment, there is much that needs to be improved upon should the club successfully challenge for honours next season. Liverpool are carrying players who seem to suffer a lot of injuries throughout the season. This means that the club may require more player cover than other clubs.
Looking at last season, our five centre-backs were Virgil Van Dijk who from January who had come back from a serious injury, Joe Gomez, who had come back from a long-term injury, and Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip who both missed games in the last two seasons. The only other person on that list was Ragnar Klavan who is an Estonian utility player in his thirties who had never had a long run in the team. This has meant that there has never really been a settled centre-back partnership for LFC. Nathaniel Clyne’s injury at right back meant that Gomez was mostly called on as a right back and had a lot of minutes in his legs when he was called upon at centre back.
Joe Gomez who started off so promisingly at left-back suffered a serious cruciate ligament injury in October 2015 which meant that he missed 52 games that season. Less than a month after returning from injury he was struck down with Achilles tendon problems which saw him miss another 15 games the following season and only make 3 FA cup appearances and no league appearances. 2017-18 saw him make 23 league appearances mainly at right back which for his age and given his previous injury problems could be deemed as a success. Joe suffered two separate injuries that season. He had a malleolar injury which struck from 23 March – 20 April and then suffered an ankle injury which saw him miss the rest of the season including the Champions League final.
In an Observer article dated 30 September 2017, Dejan Lovren admitted to taking five pills before every game in order to play, citing a series of back and Achilles injuries as the cause. He admitted to not being always able to train before a game. Clearly, this is not ideal and may have played some part in his inconsistent performances for the reds. Lovren has never managed to complete more than 29 league games for Liverpool since joining the club in 2014. Whilst some of this may have been due to being dropped or rested, it is equally true that injuries have hindered his ability to be a regular starter at the back for Liverpool.
Joel Matip is less reliable than Dejan Lovren when it comes to injuries. Matip has missed 146 days or 33 games for Liverpool since he joined the club for the start of the 2016-17 season. For 2016-17 season Matip made 29 league appearances and the following season he made only 25 league appearances.
In midfield, Jordan Henderson suffered a series of foot and knee injuries which saw him miss the majority of the 2015-16 season, the last third of the 2016-17 season, and missed 7 games in the 2017-18 season. Henderson’s minutes and games have had to be managed with it being difficult for him to play more than a game a week.
Then there is Adam Lallana who missed most of last season and is becoming increasingly injury prone. For 2014-15 Lallana missed 11 games, 15-16 missed 7 games, 16-17 10 games missed, and 17-18 saw Lallana miss the majority of the season. He missed 32 games of that entire season according to transfermarkt.co.uk.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completes the injury prone midfield, whose cover included James Milner, a thirty-something who can’t handle too many games at once, Marko Gruijic, an inexperienced Serbian international who seemed to time his tackles as well as Lucas Leiva, and Gigi Wijnaldum who was very much a homer when it came to his form and his goal scoring. We can also mention Philippe Coutinho who Liverpool had for half a season before allowing him to leave mid-season without a replacement, but if he and his agent were to be believed, he had back problems which kept him unable to play for Liverpool Football Club.
Up front, Liverpool had Daniel Sturridge (do I even need to mention his injury record?) and Danny Ings, a player who has missed nearly two full seasons of football.
Players cannot help getting injured, but as a club, Liverpool do carry a lot of players who had suffered injury problems. Sometimes, this can be due to operating in a certain transfer market meaning that injury prone players may cost less than other players with better injury records, others like Raymond Verheijen may point to Klopp’s pressing style of play as a reason for injuries. What was noticeable last season was that Klopp’s Liverpool did seem to be pressing less, at least at the start of the season and Klopp operated a rotation system to manage player’s minutes? Klopp has also been putting his own team in place, a specialist nutritionist in Mona Nemmer, and Andreas Kornmayer a conditioning specialist to ensure that the players are in the best of possible health, but this approach can only yield so much. A bigger squad is needed should Liverpool be able to challenge on all fronts next season and a certain type of player will no doubt be targeted in terms of endurance, stamina and injury record. Should the club buy the right players there is reason for optimism next season.
(Thanks to Transfermrkt and LFC History for some of the statistics cited in this article)